Natalia (Natasha) Vasilita
July 15, 1997 - October 29, 2001
updated November 20, 2018
Updated November 20, 2018
It is 17 years later I write this about a special little girl that came into Bev's and my life in 2001. She was a joy of a little orphan from Moldova with horrible health issues that were in large part dealt with by doctors and surgeons in Indianapolis. In this update I post an article about her from the Indianapolis Star that tells her story. The paper appeared on the streets on the ill-fated morning of 9-11, on September 11, 2001 and was overshadowed by a great national tragedy. I post this story from the newspaper at this time. Below is a chronicle of Natasha's experience in the United States with us.
Four year old Natalia (Natasha) Vasilita arrived in the United States on August 15, 2001 to have surgery for congenital heart disease and an imperforated bowel. Natasha touched the lives of so many in Indiana with her joyous spirit. She died suddenly on October 29 due to a blood clot in her pulmonary artery (thrombosis).
Click here for more photos of Natasha and her American friends
Article in the Indianapolis Star News: Eastern European Orphan Gets a Second Chance at Life published September 11, 2001.
A memorial for her is held at Washington Park Cemetery, 2706 Kessler Blvd. in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening, November 20th at 7:30 PM.
Even though Natasha was an orphan, she had many people who cared very deeply for her. The most notable of these was Dr. Dora Dragneva who looked after the children in the orphanage in Moldova were Natasha lived for two years. Dr. Dora traveled to Indiana with Natasha. She stayed at Natasha's side during her operations and her stay at St. Vincent's hospital. She stayed in Indiana with Natasha the entire seven weeks she was here and she showered her with "around the clock" love and care. Natasha adopted Dr. Dora as her "Mama."
Natasha has left behind many friends in Indiana. These friends were her family. She called them her aunties and uncles. She was very deeply loved and we have the comfort of knowing that during the last weeks of her life she had a quality of life she had never previously known. She was happy, she felt well and she loved life to the full. Natasha, we miss you!
The story of her ordeal in some ways is told best through the eyes of journalists in Moldova which we have reproduced below:
Translated from the Chisenau, Moldova Russian language newspaper Argumenty I Fakty published in October 2001 in Moldova shortly before Natasha died
QUARTER OF MILLION DOLLARS FOR SAVING A MOLDOVAN GIRL
The very first thing Natasha did when she woke up after anesthesia was look at her own hands. “Oh, my fingers aren’t blue anymore!” she said quietly and started shining with a smile. Doctors and nurses that gathered next to her bed in the intensive care room could not resist crying. Their four-year old patient, whose heart was just operated on, was concerned about the color of her palms. From previous conversations with the cardiologists she was aware that if her constantly blue fingers would turn pink, it meant that the surgery was successful.
WHERE ARE YOU GUARDIAN ANGEL?
[Our note: Natasha's parents gave her up at birth because of her medical problems. She spent the first months of her life in a hospital.]
Natasha Vasilita became an orphan when she was less than two years old. Her father died of tuberculosis and her mother died of diabetes. Everybody was saying that this little girl wouldn’t live very long either. She was born with a double health problem: a heart disease and a complex pathology of the bowel. Her birth defects were causing her a painful existence. Why did fate punish this little girl so harshly, without any sin committed by her? She was left all alone with severe health problems. Even the employees at the Specialized Orphanage of Ministry of Health, who were used to seeing everything, were horrified seeing an exhausted girl with a blue face. She was constantly having seizures. Her legs were so weak that she wasn’t able to walk on her own. She also had an extended belly that emptied only through a fistula, because Natasha was missing an anus. The light of life was barely shining inside her tiny body.
“A surgery was required, but the specialists of the children’s hospitals in Moldova were not brave enough for this step, considering it to be too risky, because of such a complex mix of pathologies,” explained E.A. Timanovschii, director and chief pediatrician of the orphanage.
“Of course we weren’t passive. We were supporting her body with medicines and artificially emptying her bowel. And we weren’t losing hope that we would find an opportunity to fundamentally improve Natasha’s health.”
For two years every day was a struggle. Every employee of the orphanage tried to comfort this poor child. The baby, fragile and light as a feather, was carried to the garden to breathe some fresh air, to take a look at the beautiful springtime, and to warm her up in the sun during the summer. The rest of the time she lay in her bed in the isolation ward. This measure had to be taken for the sake of her privacy and for the sake of the other children that would be frightened when they would become unwilling witnesses of Natasha’s seizures. In general, Natasha didn’t participate in the loud games of other children her age and was deteriorating despite all of the efforts of the medical personnel, caretakers, and educators.
DON’T TRUMPET YOUR GOOD DEEDS
Meanwhile, the guardian angel didn’t leave the child in the hands of unfortunate fate. How else could you explain the following wonderful events that appeared to be copied from a Christmas storybook? On one clear April day the orphanage was visited by a group of American doctors, headed by the First Lady of Indiana Judy O’Bannon. To a large degree, thanks to her, Natasha soon crossed the Atlantic Ocean on an airplane, only to appear in the city of Indianapolis at St. Vincent Hospital. Natasha also participated in her own fate by charming Mrs. O’Bannon in Chisinau by telling her a poem about a duck, a housewife, and a boy. The guest, touched by this, promised to see if the small girl could possibly be helped in the U.S., if indeed in Moldova there was no such opportunity.
Here, with your permission, I will skip a series of details. The most important point is that on the other side of the ocean many fellow citizens of the First Lady have actively participated in Natasha’s future. The approximate cost of the services to be performed by them will be close to $250,000 dollars.
As it says in the Bible: “don’t trumpet your good deeds…” meaning don’t boast and don’t ask for a reward. May my deed be forgiven, but I consider it justified to name at least a few people that were eager to help Natasha. Victor Kubik, the chairman of the charitable organization “LifeNets,” hospitably opened the doors of his family house for Natasha and Dora Dragneva (pediatrician). The details of planning the medical treatment with the hospital were effectively coordinated by St. Vincent Hospital Government Relations Liaison Molly Wilkinson. The other significant expenses were covered by businesswoman Deborah Sturges, who also provided comfortable and beautiful clothes and toys for Natasha.
DR. ABRAHAM STARTS AND SUCCEEDS
Now I am going to let Dora Dragneva tell you a few words:
“Natasha could have died any moment; she had seizures on the way to the United States. I was very concerned about her, but when Natasha came around, she calmed me down saying: ‘Don’t worry, I am ok now.’ The doctors from the hospital were genuinely impressed by how the girl with such complex pathologies could have survived until the age of 4, and how in the condition she was in, was able to make the trip from Europe to the United States. To be honest with you, I personally want to understand this phenomenon as well. Evidently she is truly an extraordinary child.
When I was preparing her for the surgery, I told her the truth: You will fall asleep under anesthesia. When you will sleep, you won’t feel the touch of the scalpel, and when you wake up you will become as all the other kids are. Natasha took a deep breath and said: ‘I agree, but I don’t want to be given any injections….’
On the 23rd of August, after a very thorough examination by Dr. Sanjay Parikh, the surgery was perfectly executed by cardiologist Simon Abraham. Before surgery the oxygen level in her blood was not higher than 60-62%, but by morning of the day after surgery it had reached 99%, and now, by the way, it is equal to 100%. Six days after surgery Dr. Abraham announced the release of his patient. I was shocked! To think that the child who was recently considered to be condemned was put back on her feet within a week. And yes, Natasha walked out of the hospital building on her own feet.
On the 12th of September, she went to the operating room one more time. This time she went under scalpel of Dr. Joshua Careskey, who was willing to fix the pathology of the bowel. But this mistake of nature will have to be fixed step by step in three stages, otherwise it will be impossible. Therefore she has two more surgeries ahead of her in 6 and 12 months respectively.”
THAT GIRL IS PLAYFUL!
Towards the end of Dora’s monologue, a child in an elegant jump suit ran into the room where we were holding our conversation. Her eyes were shining, what a big smile she had! She couldn’t sit in one spot, ran up to the mirror, turned the cap on her head, turned it around to the side, constantly laughing. Suddenly she calms down because she has to “feed” her doll. Then she starts to talk, asking a hundred questions a minute and constantly trying to get close to Mama Dora. Natasha calls the woman with whom she sympathizes and trusts “Mama.”
“Before her world was limited to her bed,” quietly notes Elizaveta Akimovna Timanovschii, “now she is eager to catch up. We are looking at her and we can’t stop being happy for her. We can’t believe that this is the same girl that two months ago was taken barely alive to the U.S.”
Natasha loves to draw. She is very smart for her age, easily memorizing poems and creating stories to accompany picture book illustrations. By the way, during her 6-week stay in Indianapolis she started to understand English, with which she has impressed her American friends. The child has simply changed dramatically. She doesn’t complain about her heart. And maybe in the near future she will be able to get rid of the colostomy bag, which she has to wear on her left side under her clothing.
Probably, with passing years, Natasha will forget about the nightmares of her early childhood. Well, we shouldn’t try to restore the bad memories back to life. What is important is to be thankful in her soul to the kind-hearted people who helped by not letting an orphan perish. And in her own time, she will shine her own bright light of kindness, generously sympathizing with those who need help.
Mrs. Judy O'Bannon
Natasha with D.F. Dragneva
The following emails through Lydia Bauer tell a bit more about Natasha's death and burial.
November 4, 2001
Dear Friends of Natasha,
I received the following e-mails from Moscow on Saturday, November 3rd from Drs. Anatoliy Dragnev and Dr. Dora Dragneva.
Regretfully, I have the unpleasant task of informing you that on the 29th of October, 2001 at 3:00 pm Natasha suddenly died. Up to one hour to her death she felt absolutely normal. Suddenly she developed a rapid heart beat, the origin of which was unknown. She was admitted to intensive care at the hospital and within one hour she died. At that time Dora Fedorevna (Dr. Dora Dragneva) was at my home in Moscow, where she is currently staying. An autopsy was performed and the preliminary cause of death was determined to be a blood clot in her pulmonary artery (thrombosis).
According to the Moldovan physicians, the surgical intervention performed in the United States had no impact on her death.
Dr. Anatoliy Dragnev
Natasha's Grave in Moldova
A wake was held at the orphanage and a funeral was held in the village of "Bunica," one of Natasha's closest caregivers. She is buried in this village, not far from Chisinau. In Moldova, relatives care for the gravesites and they felt Natasha should be here so Bunica could care for the site. Natasha's toys and clothes were distributed to the children of the village.
The physicians do not believe this clot was related to any procedure performed in the U.S. and were quite in awe of the work of the St. Vincent surgeons.
Natasha and Dora visited the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education, and some members of the International Adoption Committee on the Friday before her death. All were so happy with her condition and Dora was working on trying to get a release so she could get adopted internationally.